2013 Data Breaches See Oregon Health & Science University Pay OCR $2.7 Million

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has agreed to settle a case with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights which arose from two data breaches suffered in 2013. A penalty of $2.7 million will be paid by OHSU to settle alleged HIPAA breaches without admission of liability.

The privacy breaches happened consecutively in 2013. Within three months, the protected health information of over 7,000 registered patients was exposed.

The initial breach of patient information involved the theft of an non-encrypted laptop computer from a vacation apartment in Hawaii that was rented by an OHSU physician. The laptop computer held the PHI of 4,022 patients.

The second incident involved the accidental disclosure of PHI via a cloud storage system. Physicians were using the Internet service to share a spreadsheet holding patient data. However, the cloud service provider was a HIPAA business associate of OHSU and no business associate agreement had been put in place prior to the service being used. Consequently, the data of 3,044 patients was placed in danger.

In addition to the significant financial penalty, OHSU must put in place a thorough corrective action plan (CAP) to ensure all security issues are addressed and patient privacy is adequately secure. The CAP – which will last for a duration of three years – also requires OHSU to submit regular reports to the OCR.

Both data breaches spurred internal investigations and measures were implemented to improve security and keep the PHI of patients safe. OHSU followed the requirements of the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule and advised patients of the breaches, issued media notices, and filed reports to the OCR. Affected patients were also offered identity theft protection and credit monitoring assistance to help manage risk.

However, the OCR investigation showed HIPAA Rules had been broken. Had HIPAA Rules been adhered to, the breaches could have been prevented and patient data would not have been placed in danger. Given the seriousness of the violations, a financial penalty was found to be appropriate.

According to an official statement issued by OHSU’s CIO Brigdet Barnes, OHSU is presently “investing at an unprecedented level in proactive measures to further safeguard patient information.”